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An Atlas of Historic New Mexico Maps, 15501941

Rand, McNally & Co.'s business atlas map of New Mexico. : 1897

The Homestead Act, passed by Abraham Lincoln (see below) opened up the possibility of free, or nearly free land to the teeming masses coming over from Europe. The American military had subdued the native residents, both Hispanic and indigenous, and the railroads had connected remote New Mexico to the rest of the nation.

The final piece of the puzzle to draw American homesteaders to New Mexico was an assessment of what land, after millennia of occupation, and centuries of colonization, was still open for homesteaders.

George Montague Wheeler led an ambitious project to survey New Mexico at a scale of 1:8, and to establish a meridian (a north-south line) and baselines (east-west lines) in order to plat the state into sections (one square mile, or 640 acres) and townships (36 sections). Homesteaders willing to settle in the arid west could claim an entire section under the Desert Lands Act of 1877. Anyone who could prove that the land was irrigated within three years of filing paid the government $1.25 per acre.

The dividing of the lands that went so easily in other states was more complicated in New Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo promised to honor the grants given under Spanish or Mexican law, but finding the boundaries of those grants was another problem entirely. The boundary descriptions were based on current ownership (Don Luis' corrals) and familiar landmarks (where the cattle come to the river to drink). Even when measurements were specified, they were in variably-determined Spanish leagues, not easily convertible to miles.

Many land grants had no more documentation than the testimony of the occupants, and most included common lands for grazing, timber, and water access, which were mostly discounted as part of the title, and the ownership claimed by the U.S. government.

This map rather paints a rather more optimistic picture of available lands and mineral resources in New Mexico than was the case, even in 1888, when this map was actually created.

Many of the "undecided" land grant cases on this map had actually been confirmed by the time of publication, and it does not include any of the Pueblo grants, which had all been confirmed by that time.

This map appeared in an indexed atlas of the world, compiled with historical, descriptive, and statistical materials for each country and civil division.

Atlas Citation: [Eidenbach, Peter]

Map Credits: Image No: 3565144 Rumsey Collection



President Polk declares war with Mexico; US forces led by General Stephen Kearny seize New Mexico, which surrenders without a shot being fired. Colonel Doniphan writes code for governing the Territory of New Mexico. New Mexico designated Ninth Military Department.


Philip St. George Cooke blazed the first wagon road from New Mexico to the West Coast.

New Mexico formally annexed; slavery issues had prevented formal annexation until this point.


Mexico signs the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which cedes lands in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico to the United States (Statute 922 App I). The international boundary designated as the intersection of 32º N and the Rio Grande to intersection of Choctaw Creek with Red River.


Simpson made a map previously shows town of Rito- Rito is a ruin by the time Whipple arrives because the upstream people took all the water. He traveled through Albuquerque to Pueblo de la Laguna and passed Covero (Cubero), Mount Taylor (named by Simpson in 1849 for Zachary Taylor), and Agua Fria, the last spring before the Continental Divide. Whipple used Sitgreaves' 1851 map as a reference also Walker's 1851 map.


New territories admitted, including New Mexico (including modern Arizona), purchase of additional lands from Texas, boundaries adjusted. El Paso becomes part of Texas.


Sitgreaves' official report, Report of an Expedition Down the Zuni and Colorado Rivers in 1851, was published in 1853. The report explored possibility of using this route for military transport.

1852 Survey

1st international boundary commission established in accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Emory is the designated astronomer. The survey run into difficulties, which are resolved with the purchase of more land from Mexico.

Initial point on the Rio Grande (determined by Commissioners Condé and Bartlett according to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo) proves to be in the wrong place. Surveyor AB Gray says 32º 22' is wrong, 31º 52' is right. Commissioners Emory and Salazar (astronomers from the first Boundary Commission) later determine the starting point of the line at 32º47'.


New Mexico legislature passed a single act creating two new counties, redefining five of the original counties to extend across the limits of the territory, and eliminating all non-county area.


Gadsden Purchase from Mexico resolves boundary issues, and give the U.S. the land necessary to build a southern transcontinental railroad. (GP Statute 1031 App II).

1855 Survey

US Commissioner: William H. Emory

Mexican Commissioner: José Salazar y Larregui

Emory and Salazar survey the entire Mexican-American border, including the new area included by the Gadsden Purchase.

The Americans made nearly a dozen monuments along the border to mark the sites, but many were destroyed by surrounding tribes, so the Mexicans rebuilt many and added some. Later surveys added over two hundred more, and rebuilt them as more permanent monuments.

1855 railroad surveys

The U.S. Government commissioned a number of surveys, spaced along parallels, to determine the best route for a transcontinental railroad.

Emory & Parke: 32nd parallel

Whipple & Ives: 35th parallel

Beckwith & Gunnison: 38th-39 parallel

1857 and 1858

Ives' Report upon the Colorado River of the West


Marcy publishes The Prairie Traveler


Colorado territory established; New Mexico's northern boundary reduced.

Residents of the Mesilla Valley declared their allegiance with the Confederacy and separated from the Union. They hoped the Confederacy would recognize them as the state of Arizona, which they imagined would reach to the Colorado River.

Civil War starts. Confederate troops gather at Fort Bliss and take Fort Fillmore. The plan is to seize New Mexico, and then march on to take the gold fields of Colorado or California. Indian raids on settlements step up as U.S. Army soldiers turn their attention to other matters.


Homestead Act: free 160 acres offered after 5 years cultivation. Later modified to offer 320 acres, and the Desert Lands Act offered 640 acres.

Henry H. Sibley, commander of a brigade of mounted regiments from Texas, marched from Fort Bliss near El Paso up the Rio Grande: taking Fort Fillmore, defeating Union troops at Fort Craig, taking Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and finally meeting the Union troops in battle at Glorieta Pass near Pecos. The Confederates lost about 350, 73 wagons, as well as their provisions and supplies. Starving and without clothes or ammunition, the Confederate troops retreated back to Fort Bliss.


Railroad Land grants: the Federal government gives away 128 million acres of land to the railroad companies, as an incentive to build railway lines all over the country. The railroad companies sold many of these parcels to homesteaders.


Arizona Territory created by the United States from the western portion of New Mexico Territory and a part of present Nevada. Present New Mexico-Arizona boundary established.


"Long Walk"- Navajo and Mescalero Apache forcibly relocated to Bosque Redondo reservation. The Apache eventually escaped, and the Navajo signed a treaty of nonagression and returned to their homeland in 1868.


Indian Wars throughout the West. Destruction of the bison herds.


Hayden, King, Wheeler, Powell Surveys map the west comprehensively, while cataloguing flora, fauna, and geology.


Navajo chief Barboncito, along with numerous other leaders, sign a treaty with General William T. Sherman, agreeing to peace with the Americans in exchange for rights to return from Bosque Redondo to their new reservation: a small area within their traditional homeland.


Fort Bliss renamed Fort Bliss.

Cochise and Apache guerrillas active 1871- 1879.

The war to save the buffalo 1874-1880.


Fort Bliss permanently established in current location.


The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (AT&SF) railroad crosses the Raton Pass into New Mexico, reaching Las Vegas, its first destination in New Mexico, in 1879.


USGS established.


The Southern transcontinental railroad traversed the region.

Geronimo & Chiricahua Apaches active in southern New Mexico and northern Mexico, 1880-1886.


New boundary treaty: the boundary, where marked by the Rio Grande, adheres to the center of original channel as surveyed in 1852 even if the course of the river changes. Boundaries on international bridges at center point.


Geronimo surrenders to General Crook in southern New Mexico. The remaining members of the Chiricahua and Mimbres bands are removed first to Florida, and finally to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.


US/Texas/ New Mexico/Mexico border resurveyed; discovered bancos or alluvial deposits changing land mass on either side of the border.


Forest Reserve Law, designating forest preserves; forerunner of current National Forests.


National Forest service created.


Antiquities Act. Allows a president to protect areas of public land by executive order.

New treaty with Mexico on water rights for irrigation


New Mexico becomes the forty-seventh state of the Union.


National Park Service created.


Gila Wilderness established.


U.S. Supreme Court decision in New Mexico v. Colorado dismisses New Mexico's claims and establishes current boundaries between the states.

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